here’s the long version of how trauma broke me open, devastated me, and now how it’s healing

Dec 28, 2010 | Being A Mama, Life in Progress

i wrote the following post in pieces throughout these past many weeks. now that i’m coming through the other side of this struggle and feeling stronger, i wanted to share these words. it’s very personal, but as katherine says from yesterday’s post, you have to be brave with your life so that others can be brave with theirs. this is my being brave during the most tender, vulnerable time of my life.


for a few days i’ll think i’m doing just great, that i’ve got this thing sort of figured out, that i’m feeling more like myself. and then the next day i’m feeling sorry for myself, isolated, and frustrated. the ebb and flow of this new motherhood journey has strong strong tides and it seems i’m along for the ride, never knowing when i’ll come up for air, or when i’ll go back under.

i know i need to get out of myself, to get out into the world more, to reach out to my friends more. but i’m caught in the between spaces of being too exhausted, too emotionally tired, too needy to take action on anything. yet then i have days where i’m energetic and chatty and social. again, i’m along for the ride, recognizing that all i can do is be gentle with myself. i remind myself that this is the biggest, most difficult transition of my entire life, the most significant i’ll ever have. i know it all takes time. i find comfort in the stories of my friends who tell me this is all a part of it, that our hearts and our lives undergo major reconstruction with our first births, that it will take awhile to rebuild a life and a self that feels familiar. i trust their wisdom and i wait. i wait.

i will say that through it all i’m fiercely blissed out with True. when he’s up, i want to be around him. when he’s asleep, i can’t wait for him to wake up. when john offers to be primary caregiver for a few hours, i struggle (hard) with taking him up on the offer. i’m having a hard time imagining someone else (childcare/nanny) soothing him, putting him down for his naps and so on. i know this piece in inevitable + my heart sinks because of it. before he was born, i was told that we might not bond immediately, that it may take awhile to feel attached, and so i prepared myself for that possibility. but it never happened – i was attached the second i met him. he is a total angel.

i was cruising the internet wires the other day and stumbled upon a woman’s blissed out birthing experience. it sent me, all over again, to my knees. i’m not sure i will ever share my full birth experience here but i will share these pieces:

i labored at home starting at 8:30pm until i arrived at the hospital the next morning at 3am, 7cm dilated. my midwife (who i felt very very connected to) was on her way to the hospital to deliver baby true when she got into a car accident (she’s okay). her replacement was sent to deliver our baby. later i would consider how odd it felt to be a victim, a consequence of fate – i would wonder if my birth story would have unfolded more beautifully had i had her and not her replacement deliver our baby. after arriving at the hospital, i labored (unmediated) for another nine hours. and then another seven hours (medicated) before baby true was finally born via c-section at 7:30pm. the last minutes of those 23 hours are what i’m choosing to focus on – when i see True for the first time, when i see john as an ecstatic papa jumping all over the operating room with glee, when my heart nearly explodes, when i know that i had just surrendered to something so worthy of surrendering to. the c-section was a welcomed acceptance for me but the previous 16 hours at the hospital (not the 7 hours of labor at home) held moments of physical, emotional, dissociative trauma that left me suffering from symptoms of ptsd for weeks and weeks. i am working my way through it and it’s a battle that i suspect will come and go. i have good support, good resources, and a baby boy whose very presence makes me want to gather up all the morsels of this story and reframe it into nothing less than love held deep and wide.

before birthing True, i never really considered how deeply meaningful our birth stories are. i think i thought that babies were born and that’s that and what a beautiful thing. even in all my birth preparations, i wasn’t fully connected to how my baby’s birth would forever leave an imprint onto my life. i just figured that as long as he was born okay, then that was the only thing that mattered – that even if the birth was horrible, that it would still be just fine if we were all healthy in the end. i suppose the universe had to convince me just how wrong i was by giving me a situation that would break me open to just how important and impactful our birth stories are. in fact, never have i been so affected by an event in my life. ever. and like most of us, i’ve had my fair share of sad stories that have had their strong, life altering impact.

your story matters

there are the gremlins that are constantly shouting: you should just be grateful. you’re healthy, he’s healthy, and in the end what else matters? but i’m reminded of my own truth: to embrace my vulnerabilities and every single piece of this story, otherwise, i’m just pretending that i’m unaffected. and i am definitely not unaffected. i really believe in telling our stories, that they all matter, that we are connected inside the woven intricacies of our collected threads. never have i felt this truth so fully before. and so i honor the truth of this particular story, even with the gremlins telling me i should just be quiet and be grateful.

as i continued to sort through the birth experience, i kept wondering what to do with all the broken pieces. usually, when faced up against a struggle, i can find a sort of thread, a sort of woven link that helps me connect the broken pieces together with some clarity- whatever that thread is, it becomes my anchor to pulling myself through the experience – the oh, this is what this is about, this is what i’m supposed to learn, this is why this is coming up for me. but in this instance, i couldn’t find the thread. i tried very very hard, but i could not figure out what this was about for me, why i was so broken over his birth, why i continued to suffer, why i felt so much guilt. i wondered what purpose my physical/emotional birth trauma served, why it lingered via ptsd symptoms, and i became very angry as i faced heart-wrenching decisions as a direct result of my emotional recovery and ptsd fall out. for those first many many weeks, as you can imagine, i was feeling totally unmoored without any anchor to make sense of it all. i had zero clarity.

and so i just did the best i could. i loved true with all my heart. i talked to him all the time, i told him we’d get through it together, i soothed him, i soothed myself. i asked for a lot of support. i stepped away. i got weekly massages. i found strength in following my new mama instincts. i took a ton of bubble baths. i cried a lot. i leaned on my family and on john more than ever before. i watched reality television. i read pieces of books. i put on dresses. i wrote snippets here and there. i had hopeful days, sometimes several in a row. i celebrated true’s sleeping and pooping and smiling. i took a ton of videos and photos. i processed with friends. i sent SOS emails and voicemails. i visited with my midwife. i told the full birth story over and over. i cried more than i ever thought possible. i waited. i waited and i waited.

let it go III

and then one day i had an aha moment. a big one. and just like that, all of my brokenness around my birth story began to make sense. never before have i been so ready for an aha moment. it was a gift, a huge healer for me during a most profound time of pain and love (how oddly they coexist).

the aha moment goes something like this: for most of my adult life, i’ve stood very tall. i’m fearless when it comes to many things even if i know struggle and stress are a part of the equation. why? because i trust my strength, know that my vulnerabilities make me stronger, and i’m always up for an adventure that will broaden my life’s experiences. i’m an expert problem solver and task master, super resourceful, and i’m can turn most negative experiences into something valuable while also still honoring my own tenderness. i really do see light and possibility and love everywhere, even in the murkiest and most desperate of circumstances. but most importantly, through all life’s stress, sadness, chaos and activity, i’ve been very very skilled at Holding It All Together. like so many of us do, it’s a skill i perfected throughout my life when everything else was falling apart around me. i’m just figuring out now (thank you, aha moment) that it’s been a skill i’ve held onto even when nothing was falling apart around me, even when there was no reason to protect myself anymore, even when it no longer served me and held me back emotionally. i suppose it just became a habit. and before i knew it, my inner perfectionista came out and led the whole Holding It All Together campaign for many many years.

my aha moment gave me this clarity: because i was so busy Holding It All Together prior to his birth, i was a hard nut to crack. although i was sensitive, compassionate, aware, hopeful, vulnerable, i was measured in those emotions and extremely productive, never really and totally allowing myself to crack open, to give in, to let go, to rest. it was going to take something huge, something stronger than me and my willpower, something devastating to break me. and so it was. enter physical/emotional birth trauma, and i broke.

the heartbreaking lesson that i’ve learned these last many weeks is that sometimes we have to break (or surrender) to the things we most resist in order to receive what our hearts most need. for me, i most resisted letting go of Holding It All Together. but when i surrendered it, i received a huge wash of love and healing that my life most needed, that my heart was waiting for. the trauma of my birth experience and the fallout over the many weeks following that experience couldn’t be stitched together with my usual coping tools. i could no longer hold it together or navigate my way to prettier, more evolved and profound waters. most importantly, i couldn’t intellualize or analyze my way out of it. i had to feel my way out of it. this experience forced me to give up in a way i’ve never had to do, to surrender, to let it all go, and simply fall apart – something i’ve resisted my whole life. and so i was lost. and so i was broken. and it was the hardest, most heartbreaking experience of my life, all while trying to be a new mama, while nurturing the most precious little love in my totally new life, while resting side by side with new love.

it turns out that breaking open meant a rushing in of all sorts of un-measured, un held back emotions: love, terror, old wounds, old pains, new pain, tenderness between two hearts, moments i’ve waited years to experience, love waiting for me to finally say yes. my aha moment was realizing that my heart knew this was the only way, the only experience that would open me up. it knew that if i had had a relatively routine birth that i’d still be Holding It All Together and measured in my love for True, that i’d still be a little bit aloof, a little bit closed. it knew that this was the only circumstance, however traumatic and painful, that would get me, that would bring to my knees, that would force me to surrender. with the surrendering came love like never before, healing, and rebirth, and a whole new way of operating and seeing and doing and being. none of these things would be possible without the surrendering. and the surrendering would not be possible without that exact birth experience. call it magic, god, love, spirit. whatever it is, it knows what’s it’s doing and it’s teachings are profound and lasting.

(photo by tracey clark, script by ali edwards)

what i’m learning is the most beautiful thing of all: all of that brokenness and surrender leads to repair – not just healing the birth trauma wounds but all the cracks and wounds that have anything and everything to do with how i see myself as a mother, as a child, as a baby who once needed love, as a daughter, as a wife, as a friend. all the love and all the healing that have come rushing in the cracks of my brokeness are huge, beyond measure, and have widened my heart and taken up permanent residence. i feel new. and raw. but seen and deeply, profoundly loved.

the reason i’m sharing this story is because we all have something that we’re resisting. maybe it’s true love, or self acceptance, or real healing, or real grief that we’ve avoided for years and years. we all have traumatic experiences that we work hard to make sense of. i’m learning that perhaps those experiences are the absolute only and exact experiences that have the capacity to open our hearts when what we most want to do is close them. perhaps those experiences, however confusing and hurtful hold wisdom inside their broken pieces. perhaps they are the only experiences that could ever really show us our real selves and provide real healing and real connection to the people in our lives who love us. perhaps we wouldn’t be blessed with all that we have and know and see without them happening exactly as they did. there are so many layers….so many.

i’m still working (feeling) my way through all of this. twelve weeks later, i’m still a newbie in this new cracked open world, but i can still feel all the light rushing in, and hopefully always. i wish the same for you. i really, really do.

Sending much love,

Show/Hide Comments (7 comments)
  1. Anonymous

    I just starting reading your blog today, and somehow found myself on the thread of your birth story. Thank you for sharing. I am so glad that you are able to find meaning and healing in this, and I want to offer hope that it paves the way for such joy. I had a traumatic birthing experience with my first child, that was 20 years ago, and while I would have never said then, that I was a confident Holding it All Together woman, but I was, I had a traumatic and abusive childhood, and even as a young adult, I was dealing with my siblings who were experiencing severe PTSD from our childhood, (i had suffered a head injury that left me devoid of many memories) so it was up to me to hold it together. I too broke open with that birth, it triggered rape flashbacks and I suffered for months, and when I was pregnant and due with my 2nd child, I worked with some skilled midwives and doulas, and realized that I needed to reach that breaking point so that I could be open to giving and receiving the love that was necessary for me to be the mother I wanted to be. That was many years ago, our oldest is 20 and the second is 18, and her birth was an amazing experience, my midwife helped my husband and I be honest and share with each other our fears and that helped me open up and I gave birth standing up, catching my own baby with her assistance. I felt like an Amazon! So tall (i'm 5'2) and so powerful and capable, and all the nightmares stopped. We then had 3 more children, all sons, who came into the world at home in peace and joy. I feel that my power as a mother came from learning that I need to surrender.
    Thanks again for triggering this wonderful memory in me.

  2. Sweetie

    If you ever have the misfortune of travelling down that path again, PLEASE remember the comfort and support your beautiful words and art work has given to so many – too many to count!
    Reaching out from Australia, thank you, Carol

  3. Beth

    I so appreciate your thoughts on this, and your vulnerability. What a gift. I also have a traumatic birth story, and although it is much, much different from yours, I find similar threads in the healing. This past November our first baby, Eve, died suddenly before she was born, at nearly full term. The cause of her death was never diagnosed. I gave birth to her two days later, and a couple of months after that was diagnosed with PTSD. I have discovered the same thing as you to be true — in dealing with the grief and trauma, I am not only healing from losing Eve, but also healing in so many other ways. Other threads, as you wrote. I am becoming more of ME than I ever was, although I would not have thought that possible if someone had told me that would happen before it all did. I love how although our losses and pains and traumas are formidable, they also bring surprising gifts in the healing. Thank you so much for sharing this. I really, really appreciate that, and you!

  4. Sadee Schilling

    Kelly Rae,

    I have been enjoying your art and blog for what seems like forever now, but recently I was especially excited to see you open up your comments. Just because so often, when I read your beautiful words, I have an intense urge to hug you and say, "me too!" You are a kindred spirit and I am blessed by all you share here. Thank you for being so brave and insightful!

  5. Jesica Davis

    This was the first time I ever read your blog, but I too had an extremely traumatic birth experience. After two years of worsening PTSD symptoms, I finally came to a similar conclusion as you. Transformation was called for in order for me to become a mother and I was resistant. Finally surrendering to what had happened not only altered my capacity to be a mother, but my entire life trajectory. Thank you for sharing your story. Beautifully told, you are a brave and insightful woman.

  6. EMILY =)

    I've been reading your blog about being pregnant and your experience after. I am touched by your posts because your able to say a lot of things I feel that I can't verbalize. I had my baby boy last May. After 23 hours of labor I had to have an emergency c-section too. I was so excited for the whole birth experience (pain and all) there were complications and the way it was handled by a particular nurse I truly believe changed my beautiful experience ino a very traumatic one. I struggled for a long time and it was during that time that I discovered your art. It inspired me. I have the 'Your story matters' piece by my bed and it always makes me think of that difficult time and it strengthens me. Thank you for your beautiful words and art.

  7. Mom Roxy

    Thank You for sharing your story.


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I’m Kelly Rae Roberts

Before I picked up my first paintbrush at the age of 30, I was a medical social worker. I followed my creative whispers, and today I’m an artist & Possibilitarian. I’m passionate about creating meaningful art and experiences that awaken and inspire our spirits.

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